In the Post BlackJacks vs Bandits

The Ottawa BlackJacks played in what I guess could be considered their first official road game on Saturday night, and it went about as well as their first official home game. After showing a lot to like and build off of in their past two games, the BlackJacks again let their opposition set the pace and tone of the game.

After a slow start, the Fraser Valley Bandits were able to find their groove and settled comfortably in it all the way to the final buzzer, picking up a 92-77 win. Let’s take a look at what went wrong and where the BlackJacks have to improve after a disappointing start to the season.

Small Ball in the Big City

First things first, the lineup changes. Dominque Archie made his debut for Ottawa, which meant Tahjai Teague was scratched for the game. In a somewhat surprising move, Johnny Berhanemeskel was also scratched, replaced by Kyle Johnson one game after leading the team in scoring. Johnny Buckets also just made his debut, so presumably head coach Charles Dube-Brais didn’t want to have two players with such little experience with the team in the lineup.

The starting lineup remained untouched from the last two games, with Earl Calloway, Junior Cadougan, Kadre Gray, Tyrell Green and Nick Ward getting the nod. The group had looked good in their previous outings, and the coaching staff obviously wanted to field a starting five that could keep up with a team like the Bandits who constantly look to pressure. However, it was surprising that they didn’t opt to go with a bigger starting unit given the obvious size advantage they had coming into the game. More on that later.

Ottawa got out to an 8-2 start of the game when they kept the Bandits in front of them on defense, forced them to play a half court game, then got points in transition after getting stops. That’s good! That’s what this team is built to do. Then they decided that, ‘Hey, we don’t need to worry about stopping them on defense first! We’ll just beat them in a track meet!’

The end result? A 13-0 Fraser Valley run that Ottawa would never recover from. The Bandits would end the quarter up 23-16, which would have been much worse if Ottawa hadn’t done a good job preventing threes. Unfortunately, that would not last. Again, more on that later.

Gray led the team in scoring for the third time in four games, putting up 20-points and 5-rebounds on 5-of-11 shooting and a perfect 9-for-9 from the line. Ward had his third double-double of the season, with 18-points and 10-rebounds. But he only shot 4-of-7 from the field and 10-of-17 from the charity stripe. He also had 5 turnovers, at least 2 of which were off-ball.

Alain Louis offered some support off the bench, scoring 13 points and drawing 5 fouls. However, the rest of the team struggled to put the ball in the basket, including Green, who finished the game with 8 points despite scoring 6 in the first few minutes of the game.

Much like the game against the Honey Badgers, there were many fouls committed by both teams. In particular, the night long battle between Ward and 7-foot Brandon Gilbeck drew the ref’s attention, and also that of Dube-Brais, who got a technical for arguing a non-call.

Foxes on Fire

Fraser Valley pushed their record to a perfect 4-0 on the season, and looking mighty good doing it. After getting caught sleeping to start the game, coach Singleton called a timeout, gathered his troops, and took over from there on out.

Despite coming into this game 3-0, the Bandits actually did make one small change to their lining, starting Alex Campbell over Marek Klassen at point guard. All that showed us is what we pretty much already knew: no matter which player starts, both will put on a show.

Campbell, who came into the game leading the team in scoring despite coming off the bench, finished with a team high 19-points and 6-rebounds. Klassen had 16-points and a game high 6-assists while serving as the sixth-man. Jamal Reynolds (12), Shaquille Keith (10) and Malcolm Duvivier (10) all finished with double-digits in the scoring column as the Bandits rotation once again showcased why they are the most feared in the league.

Fraser Valley was projected by many to finish last in the league, and have clearly used that as motivation. Credit to coach Singleton for creating such a fine-oiled machine. Their depth means teams can’t afford to rest for even a minute, and the Bandits are able to keep fresh legs on the court at all times. The team that was supposed to be a walk-over is now walking over everybody, and will only get stronger when Julian Washburn and Levon Kendall finally join the team.

The Breakdown

I know they’ve only played 4 games this season, but this BlackJacks team needs to find out what their identity is, and quick. That might seem like a big ask for a team in such a short timeframe, but 4 games in the CEBL is 28.5% of your season. This team was filled out with veteran players in hopes that it would mean they could come together quicker, but while that sounds good in theory, we’ve yet to see it happen in practice.

On paper, the answer to who this team is seems obvious: they’re the biggest team in the league. And yet, the coaching staff has continually opted to go with a 3 guard starting lineup, with only one big man – usually Nick Ward – on the floor at all times. To his credit, Ward went to battle with 7-footer Brandon Gilbeck all night, drawing 10 fouls which resulted in 17 free throw attempts. But there were also stretches where Ward was unable to get anything going against the big man, and the BlackJacks failed to take advantage of the Bandits only interior defender being preoccupied by attacking the other forward on the court. Archie and Tyrell Green both have good size, but they’re much more comfortable operating from the mid-range and out. Having Wright or Teague in the game would have caused much more havoc down low, even if it would lead to less spacing.

Also, the team has to do a much better job on limiting offensive rebounds. Ward actually did a good job of boxing out Gilbeck and preventing him from getting put backs. But that just led to long rebounds, and the Bandits constantly out hustled the BlackJacks to the loose balls.

And the perimeter defense! The Bandits actually didn’t have a great night from deep, going 9-for-29 as a team. But Klassen and Campbell were able to hit 7-of-16, and were able to hit three 3-pointer as part of a 14-6 run to start the second quarter that pretty much put the game away. The BlackJacks have been torched from the perimeter in all three of their losses. It’s an area the team will need to fix ASAP.

Okay, rant over.

I don’t want to take too much away from the Fraser Valley Bandits. At the end of the day, they forced Ottawa to play their style of game, and the 8-headed monster that is their rotation did what they’ve done all season: lit the opponent up. They are deservedly the number-one team in the league, and it’s hard to imagine anyone knocking them off that perch after a performance like this.

As for the BlackJacks, there was obviously a lot to learn from this game. Unfortunately, they won’t have a lot of time to readjust as they travel into Edmonton on Monday. As good as the Stingers have looked early in the season, they also have a habit of letting teams back into games. The BlackJacks will have to show up ready to play hard for all 40 minutes if they hope to pick up a much need win.

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